The Dangers of Sharing Painkiller Medication
Many people are well aware of the opioid abuse epidemic sweeping the nation. A recent study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health sheds new light on how prescription painkillers are circulating the US, and overprescribing isn’t our only problem. More than 1,000 respondents were asked about their practices and beliefs related to the sharing, storage, and disposal of opioid medications, and their responses are a startling indicator of the lesser-known problems with these prescriptions.
Among those sampled:
- More than half of respondents had or expected to have leftover pills
- 61.3% reported keeping leftover medication for future use
- 20.7% reported having shared leftover opioid medications with another person
- 45.3% did not recall receiving information on proper disposal of unused medication
Approximately one in five people reported that they shared remaining prescriptions with others, often to help them manage pain and almost fifty percent of people reported not knowing the proper measures for disposing of unused pain medication. Many people using opioids for nonmedical reasons are typically not receiving them through doctors, but socially.
By not disposing of these highly addictive medications properly, people are contributing to the opioid epidemic, perhaps unknowingly. With 29,000 opioid overdoses in 2014, there is a growing awareness about overprescribing and its contribution to this epidemic. Unfortunately, over prescribing has become standard procedure and changing this routine takes time. Opioid painkillers have been widely prescribed since the late 90s and were originally viewed as “safe” due to their time-release seal.
Now the CDC is trying to take control of the situation, issuing advisory guidelines for doctors against prescribing opioids for chronic pain. These guidelines also suggest that three days of treatment is typically sufficient, and the need to prescribe opioid medication for more than a week is rare. As the guidelines take wider effect, we will see the opioid abuse problem begin to be addressed at the foundation level – but there is something that can be done now.
Proper disposal of excess medications is rarely discussed but extremely important. Keeping excess medication for yourself or sharing with others can lead to prescription abuse and opioid addiction.
The FDA and DEA suggest the following methods for disposing of extra pills:
- Follow any specific disposal instructions on the prescription drug labeling or patient information that accompanies the medicine. Do not flush medicines down the sink or toilet unless this information specifically instructs you to do so
- Take advantage of programs that allow the public to take unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal. Contact your local law enforcement agency or trash and recycling service to learn about medication take-back programs, disposal options and guidelines for your area
- Remove them from their original containers and mix them with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds, dirt or kitty litter, then place the mixture in a sealable bag, empty can or other container before placing in a garbage bin with other household trash
If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid addiction, we can help. A New Start, Inc. is an intensive outpatient program in West Palm Beach offering support and guidance for those looking for opioid abuse treatment. Our dedicated staff provides therapy services and a support system throughout the treatment process. To learn more about our outpatient drug rehab treatment center, please call 1-844-TALK-ANS.